Before I start this review I want to say loud and clear - the Ghost Train staff do NOT come into work to be shouted at, sworn at or be given no respect. Please show actors and staff alike the respect you would show anyone else.
THORPE PARK Resort have finally shown off their latest swing at developing a solid attraction for the Thorpe Junction building, but is it a home run or a miss?
Ghost Train has certainly been on the lips of many theme park and scare enthusiasts since it’s announcement back in February 2023, although mainly out of curiosity as to how the attraction would be re-themed and how the removal of the virtual reality element would affect the attraction. Being a fan of Derren Brown’s Ghost Train (when it worked) I was apprehensive but excited to see the changes - but did it live up to expectations?
There’s A New Ghost Train?
One of the more peculiar elements of the roll-out for Ghost Train has been the very barebones marketing campaign. Between waiting to announce the attraction until February of it’s opening year, to having no dedicated TV advert at the time of writing this, the entire marketing campaign has felt somewhat lukewarm. To see other attractions such as The Curse at Alton Manor and The World of Jumanji having such potent and well received marketing campaigns whilst Ghost Train has had a single video along with 3 promotional images, it did raise the question of why was this the case. Was it because the attraction wasn’t very good? Was it because of the upcoming Exodus being the main focus right now? Who knows! All I know is it did leave me feeling somewhat apprehensive.
The Exterior, Ghost Train Shop & Last Call Cafe
At first glance, the attraction has received minor updates to it’s exterior, with the ‘old’ train station building remaining unchanged (including the Derren Brown ‘1871’ birthday Easter egg, unsure if this is to nod at the previous attraction or just unchanged due to budget) and lower wooden portion of the exterior gaining a new coat of paint to match the ‘Thorpe Rail‘ aesthetic that the exterior of the attraction is going for. The previous poster idea remains, this time with a protection boarder surrounding the larger, easter egg filled posters. These are fantastic and I can’t wait to get my hands on the Canada Creek and Loggers Leap ones when they’re eventually avalible to buy as confirmed via the THORPE PARK Resort Annual Passholders Group on social media.
Along with this, the previous (and fantastic) shop has been trimmed down to around a quarter of it’s original size with the Last Call Cafe taking over the remaining three quarters. Whilst it’s sad to see the brilliant little effects dotted around the previous shop go, it’s a much needed additional F&B option that is nicely themed and well put together. As for the the Ghost Train shop, it does the job - nothing special here, but not anything horrifically bad either.
My only major gripes with the look and feel of the attraction are the new entry portal which as far as I’m concerned is a vast downgrade from the stunning Derren Brown’s Ghost Train sign, and the new attraction soundtrack/audio levels. Based on what I could hear, which wasn’t much as the audio in the queue line and shop (if there is any) has been lowered dramatically, I wasn’t much of a fan of the new soundtrack - especially as I swear the melody in one section followed a very similar melody to a certain song by Destiny’s Child (try thinking about the line “I don’t think your ready for this jelly” next time you’re stuck in the Ghost Train pens for 20 minutes). I can’t remember if there was any audio at all in the Last Call Cafe and Ghost Train Shop, but surely something similar to the previous audio track used here (”One Way Ticket” as far as I can remember) would be nice to add a level of ambience to the area.
Enough about the outside though, what about the inside…
PLEASE BE AWARE FROM THIS POINT SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW
The experience as a whole hasn’t changed much, if at all, in terms of story beats and pacing. You still have the usual pre-show > train > walking section > train > walking finale set up. Even down to where the train stops and starts. The changes come into it via the aforementioned removal of virtual reality and story which is set up in a reimagined pre-show.
The Waiting Room
The pre-show, or as it’s now known, waiting room thankfully uses the ever impressive peppers ghost effect utilised in Derren Brown’s Ghost Train, albeit to a less impressive extent. The real star here is how the pre-show has been fully reinvented to rely on more than just Derren Brown talking about fear and spooky blackboards, with a new look and new effects. Along with this, the atmosphere this room builds is electric, with a fake split-flap display showing various Easter egg filled locations as well as general attraction rules. This, paired with a dark and foreboding soundtrack set the tone as something dark, sinister and modern.
Here we are introduced to our new ‘show up at the start and end’ (but never involved within the main experience) character of Angelus Mortem. He explains how Chapel Station has been closed due to a seance held by a mysterious cult named “The Believers” within a crypt at the station going wrong. The end goal of this cult was to gain some kind of immortality and live on after death, however, when they performed the ritual they had their souls taken from their body. It’s all very dark, if not a little cheesy, but sets up the story somewhat adequately. In addition to the new theming and split-flap display, some new ‘windows’ have been added which slam shut (very similar to how the bookshelf falls in the ‘haunted’ Dungeons scenes). A nice effect, although I did notice on my first go the lighting behind said windows stayed on, whereas on my second go this turned off before the windows had even shut which took away from the realism they were attempting to achieve.
I do have one big issue with the pre-show, however, and that is the so-obvious-its-painful reuse of the classic Dungeon gag of “Please turn mobile phones off, thank you” followed by a demonic “TURN THEM OFF!”. Having known that creatives involved with The Dungeons attractions were involved in this may have made this even more glaringly obvious, but regardless it felt very out of place and almost comedic for what was being set up as a dark and serious experience. It completely took me out of the immersion and the world the attraction was building and did so both times I experienced it - the second with an added eye roll.
Cheesy 80’s TV?
Little did I know following the pre-show is where things would begin to get… interesting?
The next scene is what I like to call the “oh no, is it broken?” scene as I found myself saying this not only with Derren Brown’s Ghost Train, but unfortunately with Ghost Train too. On my first ride there was no time to stop as we were straight in after a breakdown, however, when riding without a breakdown beforehand I was stuck in this room for what felt like a good 5 minutes. Here, we no longer see the actor stood on a podium giving out numbers and ‘protesters‘ banging on the back wall (man, the DBGT story was convoluted) but instead a simple pair of… 80’s inspired TV’s showing both fake British and American news/TV shows?
I have to admit I still don’t quite understand why or how we had traveled back in time, or if the entire attraction is set in the 80’s, or if it was just a very confusing stylistic choice, but yeah… it’s there! Some shows shown include a weather report, a newscast and a Most Haunted spoof which I found highly amusing. In between some of the clips you can see Angelus appearing through the static, with some of the characters on the (presumably live?) newscast and weather report acting strangely - again I have no explanation for this besides “ohhhh spoooooooky”.
Finally, we were called forward to catch “the last train” - a common story beat which again, makes absolutely no sense to me, but we’ll get to that…
I was nervous. Very nervous. I have always been a believer (wey-hey) that the hanging train scene from Derren Brown’s Ghost Train was one of the most impressive and spectacular set pieces in the world. It was truly magical walking into that room and seeing a convincing train carriage suspended in mid air, needless to say, I was hoping this hadn’t been butchered.
The result was, as a whole, not too bad in all honesty. Gone are the mirrors, chains and red of the original set and in comes a fake train platform. Not a very convincing one sure, but I don’t think it needed to be seeing as with the ‘Is it broken?’ room holding guests you aren’t really in this room for long at all anymore - especially not facing the train anyway.
The new blue hue is strong in here, and whilst I don’t find it nearly as spellbinding as the hanging train, I do think it looks nice for the budget I assume this overhaul had. I have to be honest, when the press release had revealed the platform we were boarding at as “Platform 13”, I groaned. It’s SO on the nose! Thankfully, beyond the theming seen above this aspect barely comes into play, if at all, and so I was able to over look it. Although a nice little FRIGHT NIGHTS Easter egg can be seen on the airplane stairca, I mean, bridge over the platform so keep an eye out for it!
Journey to Chapel Station
Once boarded on the train, which now looks old, grimy and decommissioned… even though we are boarding at what appears to be an open train station, we are greeted by a few characters.
This is where the true strength of Ghost Train shines - it’s cast. What a phenomenal group of people, both of my experiences were greatly held up by the amazing work the actors did throughout, which is good seeing as this is now an actor led experience. The two characters bounce off one another well, one asking for tickets, another shouting “we don’t need no tickets” - really good stuff. The story about ‘The Believers’ is once again relayed by these actors and that’s about it. No scares, no bumps. Nothing. I took this as the story being developed and I did enjoy it, although I do feel this was done with far more impact of the previous incarnation of Ghost Train.
We are soon told we are arriving at Chapel Station and told to leave whilst another actor is telling us to stay on board. I have to admit, this was slightly confusing - on both experiences I had there were some reluctant to get up as they weren’t sure on what they were supposed to do. Having the conflicting messages - especially when one actor is on one side of the train and another at the other, is very confusing for first time riders.
Chapel Station / The Crypt
This scene remains fairly similar, rushing off the train through the back of house areas of the station and…
I. Don’t. Understand.
We have have left a station on a train that looked like it was falling apart - fine. We are told to get off but not get off to then get off at the closed station - fine. We have somehow travelled to this, presumably closed for a while, station with no issues - fine. We have now gotten off at the closed station to find it with lights on as if it’s open and immediately rushed to a crypt that happens to just be in the back of house areas of Chapel Station… right…
Anyway, after traversing black walls we arrive at The Crypt. This room was okay, providing you looked only at the actor and main set piece. The room is now painted black, with two towers of skulls either side of a new stage holding both an actor from the train and a coffin/tomb. Being honest I’m not a bit lost writing this as in person with the manic nature of the attraction this is fairly easy to accept but thinking about this transition now it’s just… nonsensical? I can’t sit here and say in the moment I didn’t just accept this is what was happening because I did, but part of that was because I had been on DBGT and so knew SOMETHING had to happen. Thinking of this as it’s own entity, this entire sequence makes absolutely no sense.
In the scene, the actor begins the ritual and is possessed by Angelus who through the power of a cliche demon voice reveals his name means “the Angel of Death”. Thankfully, the cheese here is nicely diluted by a fantastic flying prop that appears almost out of thin air, along with moving set pieces and lighting. After seeing the overhead prop the lights go out and when they return a wraith waddles through the group?
I am absolutely lost at this point. We’ve had cults, seances, crypts, creepy train guards, possession, demons, the angel of death and now wraiths too? What on earth is going on and ultimately, why?
Journey to Platform 13
We are then rushed out of the crypt directly back into the wonderfully lit Chapel Station and back onto the dirty tube train. The actors once again save the day with a truly crazy final train journey. We find out that either the souls within the crypt are still with us or our souls are still in the crypt, it’s a little unclear but regardless this causes the two train guards to become possessed and go haywire.
Suddenly, the lights go out and once they’re back on there are two… nuns!
The train lights up in UV light to reveal a paint job Emily Alton would be proud of, with writing in UV paint all over the train. This was probably the main “wow” moment of the attraction for me as between the actors and the amazing UV reveal it made for a pretty cool moment. The lights start to strobe (or go on and off of solid colours as I had last week) and the actors do their best with shouting in peoples faces and going all out bonkers before the lights go out again, the nuns go back to their hole and you hear the single best part of this attraction “If you see something unusual say something… see it, say it, sorted”. On my first go around the entire train laughed and clapped at this, however, on my second go the audio was too quiet for even my own group to hear.
The fake shop has remained fairly identical to what it looked previously, only with ‘photo collection’ kiosks/TVs for the photos that were never taken on the ride. The usual thing happens “oh there’s been a spillage” etc, the room shakes and the TVs go ‘off’. Unfortunately, without the TVs either not utilising OLED technology or even going off completely they emit enough light when black to see the door open and for the THORPE PARK employee who told us about the spillage to pop out and lunge at us using the exact same, or a very similar, demon sound effect as was used for the demon on DBGT. The lights come back on and all is well… or not! Caged hooded figures assumed to be props in the ‘shop’, again never seen them before on ride, on the walls start banging their heads against the cages and Angelus reappears at the end of the ride to say “This isn’t photo redemption, THIS IS SOUL REDEMPTION”.
I just don’t understand what this scene was going for. The reason this worked as part of DBGT is because the entire concept of that attraction was that it‘s not real, it was a theme park attraction… but is it? Whereas as far as I can tell Ghost Train tries everything in it’s power to make you believe you’ve been transported to a real train station and NOT a theme park ride. This blending of reality and fiction just doesn’t work for me here, and it doesn’t help that the finale is just so poorly executed - even more so than that of DBGT in it’s later years. Also, this is not the fault of the actor in this scene - you just can’t turn water into wine it would seem.
To put it into a word I would say confused.
I was confused coming off of the ride on my first go and even more confused after my second. This is one of the few attractions where I feel like the more you see the worse it gets and it’s heartbreaking to say that. I adore what the park tried to do with Derren Brown’s Ghost Train, especially it’s Rise of The Demon overhaul, but in it’s later years it truly was a complete waste of space.
What Ghost Train does well it does exceptionally well. Again the transit system is truly spectacular and one of a kind, and the theming kept from DBGT is still fantastic. The actors work their butts off in the attraction, to the extent where you can really understand the potential of a high quality actor led theme park attraction, unlike anything I have personally experienced. They do an absolutely fantastic job and are easily the stand out aspect of this attraction. However, they can’t save what I feel is fundamentally a flawed experience.
DBGT‘s downfall as far as I’m concerned was reliability or lack thereof it. Ghost Train‘s issues are far more ingrained into it’s very being - the story, the poorly executed theming in places and the utter lack of cohesion between scenes. The experience isn’t scary whatsoever and I feel like the 1.3M height limit was chosen to compensate that very few adults will be spooked at all by this. Not to mention, Ghost Train has proven that reliability was not completely a VR headset issue, having been plagued by late openings and stoppages non-stop. Every scene of this attraction feels like entirely different people worked on each, and I wish I was using hyperbole here, but we are introduced to a new ‘bad guy’ in 5 out of the 6 scenes that I count this attraction to have. It’s almost as though someone put “Scary movie based on tube train” into an AI and ran with it. Additionally, the level of cheese almost feels like a cop out because those developing the attraction weren’t sure how to make it ‘scary’ so why not make it ironic and funny - unfortunately this is taken way too far and had me laugh and groan at the attraction rather than with it.
Whilst I cannot sit here and say this is a downgrade to DBGT post 2017, I can’t sadly say that if I take both attractions at their best for me personally (this being my second ride on Ghost Train and 2017 for DBGT) that Ghost Train is even close to what DBGT was. That being said, I have hopes that this attraction can find it’s feet - many of the issues can be rectified with simplifying elements, introducing characters in a better way, removing the excessive cheese along with really focusing on what story is trying to be told.
As of right now though, I have to be honest. I’m genuinely gutted to come away from Ghost Train confused, slightly underwhelmed and not at all scared - something that it’s predecessor could at least achieve.
*all imagery used within this review are taken by PSG or publicly avalible from THORPE PARK Resort